Culture festivals filled Knoxville Oct. 1-2

Many of the llamas were set up in viewing pens after the costume contest and race so visitors could pet them. Photo by Rhiannon Williams.
Many of the llamas were set up in viewing pens after the costume contest and race so visitors could pet them. Photos by Rhiannon Williams.

The weekend of Oct. 1-2 lit up Knoxville with a wide variety of events. Thousands of people flocked to Knoxville to enjoy a wide variety of culture festivals as well as events to benefit the Knoxville area and impoverished areas across the globe. These events came during the weekend of the 225th anniversary of the founding of Knoxville which landed on Oct. 3.

The Great Llama Race, run by Casa de Sara, was held in World’s Fair Park in downtown Knoxville. Casa De Sara is an organization whose mission is to provide nutrition and healthcare to local at-risk children and their families as well as those in Bolivia.

Participating local schools worked with Casa de Sara as well as Southeast Llama Rescue to create outfits for a costume contest that took place before the race began. A wide variety of costumes were displayed at the event. One such costume was a school spirit themed llama presented by Pigeon Forge High School. A more comical costume was a professionally dressed chef llama, complete with a chef riding him, courtesy of Pigeon Forge High School’s Culinary Arts program.

Following the costume contest, the main event paired local celebrities with llamas to compete in a 100-yard footrace across World’s Fair Park. The top three runners received prizes, and a part of the proceeds went to local schools and charities in both the Knoxville area and Bolivia.

In addition to The Great Llama Race, The HoLa Festival lit up the night sky on Saturday, Oct. 1, and the party did not stop until late Sunday night. The Latino nonprofit organization HoLa Hora Latina hosted the event in Market Square to further their mission of promoting unity between Latinos and the larger community through cultural events and festivals such as the HoLa Festival.

Over 33,000 people visited the festival which consisted of live performances, displays by local nonprofits, cultural wares for sale, display tables representing many Latin countries, and delicious food. Countries such as Spain and Mexico were represented at the festival as well as countries many do not typically think as being Latin countries, such as Jamaica.

Maryville College’s Kory Martinez and Alan Miramontes represented the college as members of the Latino Student Alliance, which was among the many booths set up by local nonprofits who supported HoLa Hora Latina’s mission of unity within the community.

An interesting feature of the event was the use of passports. Attendees could purchase a passport for one dollar and visit each table to gain a sticker for their passport. This allowed for greater interaction between the representatives of each respective country as well as the general public.

The highlight of the event for many, undoubtedly, was the food served at the event. A wide variety of foods were served by local vendors, including universal favorites such as tacos, tamales, churros, and Cuban sandwiches. Other food that may be less well known to those outside of the Latin community was elote, corn on the cob covered in crema fresca, sour cream, and chili powder as well as raspados, a shaved ice drink using fresh juices, fruits and condensed milk.

The third event that happened in Knoxville Oct. 1-2 was Greek Fest hosted by Saint George Greek Orthodox Church for the 37th year. The festival celebrates lively Greek culture through sharing the goods, music, dancing and food.

Maryville College’s own Dr. Maria Siopsis, Associate Professor of Mathematics, was an integral part of the event as the director of the dance program at Saint George Greek Orthodox Church for the past 13 years. Performers at Greek Fest were her students and are dedicate to continuing the practice of dance, which Dr. Siopsis says is a form of “community glue.”

“I get to work with young, energetic kids who love to interact with each other and show them new ways to connect through traditional dances that have been around for centuries,” said Dr. Siopsis.

Another integral part of Greek Fest is the food that draws in huge crowds. Favorites are often gyros, spanakopita, souvlaki and baklava. Baklava, the sticky-sweet dessert, could be enjoyed by itself or with creamy vanilla ice cream in a baklava sundae. The selection of Greek wines and coffee also is a crowd pleaser, along with delicious frappes using Greek coffee.

One of the greatest parts of the event is picking up a handpicked box of Greek pastries for the road. Mass quantities of koulourakia, a sweet sesame short bread; kourambiedes, confectioner’s sugar covered short bread cookies; and, of course, baklava was sold at the event.

Authentic baklava is usually difficult to find, yet the Saint George Greek Orthodox Church’s dance team will be holding a fundraiser in the following month selling baklava. Anyone interested is encouraged to contact Dr. Siopsis for more information.

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